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What Is Innovation? Understanding Its Moving Parts, Benefits

Image by Alex Robinson

Big innovations are easy to spot because they make big splashes. Think Dollar Shave Club with its refreshing, affordable take on stamping out stubble. Or 3D printers, which made the idea of prototyping at school or home a reality for budding inventors.

Business leaders understand the power of innovation, but a McKinsey survey tells us that most respondents admitted to not putting innovation front and center — even though innovative enterprises can edge out competitors by as much as 30% during and after economic crises.

The good news is that the door is always open for companies that want to innovate. It all starts at the cultural level; without a corporate culture that rewards problem-solving, teaches experimentation, affords freedom, and heralds cross-team collaboration, enterprises can’t hope to produce new products and processes that set them apart from competitors. How does this type of nimble, open-minded culture gain steam? Changes that support full-fledged innovation begin at the top of organizations; C-suites must be champions of reinvention and risk. Of course, it can be challenging to get that buy-in — even from people who innately know the importance of an executive support system for innovation.

About 74% of people who contributed to a study on enterprise innovations agreed that innovating doesn’t work without a chief information security officer’s blessing. That’s an issue that must be addressed by any company striving to embrace innovation as a brand differentiator. Once that barrier is eliminated, everyone on the payroll can take advantage of the power of no-holds-barred creative thinking.

Core Benefits of Innovation and Diversity in the Workplace

Companies that practice innovation on a cultural level reap several benefits. First, those organizations can react quickly to changing consumer or marketplace needs, making them nimble and adept. A company of any size can grab market share if it lets go of the old ways in lieu of the unknown.

Another upside is improved productivity without overspending. Take LEGO and its crowdsourced community, LEGO Ideas. Brand enthusiasts are encouraged to share their concepts, making it simpler for the company to generate new products without relying only on internal shareholders for designs.

Another advantage? Heightened competition. A few years ago, Polaroid was suffering — until it reinvented its brand and shocked naysayers by returning to relevance through innovation. And even if you’re on top, your company can still blow away the competition. Apple does it every year by delivering exciting updates and devices that people stand in line to buy because of its reputation for innovation.

The final upshot is improved employee engagement. After the coronavirus forced workers everywhere to stay home, employee engagement statistics from Gallup showed a shockingly worrisome 7 percentage point drop in engagement levels between March and June. Even if your team is remote, you can bolster connectedness by adopting an innovative mindset that enables everyone to focus on making the impossible possible.

Avoiding the Temptation to Go Innovation ‘Lite’

Sounds stellar, right? Innovation can be powerful, but it deserves your full attention and commitment. Innovation “lite” cultures don’t produce the same stellar results. Avoid the temptation to buy a startup, merge your operations, and say you’ve innovated. That’s not what innovation is about from a holistic standpoint, and it won’t make much of a dent in your culture.

Instead, exercise patience and start creating diverse innovation teams of employees from different roles and backgrounds across your company. Ask them to leverage their specialties to develop extraordinary products, solutions, and protocols to set your brand apart from the rest.

What are the steps in the innovation process your team members need to know before they can get started? Adopt a learning method like Killer Questions, Lean Startup, or the Da Vinci Method. Each approach focuses on one particular path toward innovation. They might have you ask teams to construct hypotheses, test them, and iterate for improvement. Whatever you choose, make sure you lay out guidelines — especially for collecting data and using it to inform next-generation innovations.

Further, focus your processes on intentional learning to help your people become savvy at seeing problems from fresh perspectives. They’ll also begin to see failures as opportunities to learn instead of dead ends, which will motivate them to continue working when setbacks occur.

What is innovation at the enterprise level? It’s a cultural commitment to freeing up workers to try new things, dream big, and make bold moves. If you’re not prioritizing it already, you’re missing out. Reach out today to learn more about how you can put innovation at the core of what you do.